The Oldowan-Acheulian Transition: Is there a “Developed Oldowan” Artifact Tradition?

  • Sileshi SemawEmail author
  • Michael Rogers
  • Dietrich Stout


The phrase “Developed Oldowan” (DO) was originally coined by M. Leakey to describe a technologically “advanced Oldowan” artifact tradition, that preceded the Acheulian Industry. M. Leakey further identified three stages of the DO which she labeled as the DOA, DOB and DOC. The DO (sensu lato) has been generally recognized as transitional to the Acheulian, but the status of the DOB and the DOC remains unclear. In addition to a lack of clarity in terms of classification, the DO also suffers from a lack of secure radiometric dates, even at Olduvai where it was first identified. Despite such shortcomings, archaeologists still assign assemblages into the DO, as supposedly “intermediate” or transitional between the Oldowan and the Acheulian. However, a closer look at the DO assemblages from Olduvai Gorge and other sites in Africa and the Middle East shows that the artifacts assigned into this tradition are not technologically drastically different from the preceding Oldowan. Probably the flaking characteristics of the raw material types (e.g., quartzite and limestone, and to a lesser extent basalt) and the original shape of the cobbles used by hominins may have played a major role in the final shape of the “distinctive” artifact types (such as spheroids/subspheroids) used for assigning assemblages into the DO. Further, both the DOB and the Acheulian appeared ˜1.7 million years ago (Ma) in the archaeological record, making it unlikely that the DO is a transitional artifact tradition that preceded the Acheulian. Our preliminary evaluation of the archaeological record at Gona, Ethiopia and elsewhere suggests a fairly abrupt appearance of the Acheulian after a temporally rapid transition from the Oldowan.


Oldowan Developed Oldowan Oldowan-Acheulian transition Early Acheulian 



We would like to thank Parth Chauhan and Marta Camps for inviting us to contribute to this volume. We would also like to thank the ARCCH of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the National Museum of Ethiopia for permits and overall assistance. The Gona research was funded by the Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. The work of M. Leakey has inspired archaeologists from all over the world. Her contributions to African archaeology are unparalleled, and the Olduvai Gorge archaeological volume (3) is the first seminal work on Early Pleistocene hominin stone tool manufacture and use behavior. Although some of her interpretations may be questioned, as the first individual to take such a huge responsibility she did a terrific job, and we admire her immense undertaking. SS would like to thank the Stone Age Institute and Friends of CRAFT for overall assistance to the Gona Palaeoanthropological Research Project. MJR acknowledges funding support from a Connecticut State University Research Grant. Members of the Gona Project and colleagues have contributed to our success in a number of ways, and we are grateful to Jay Quade, Naomi Levin, Leslie Harlacker, and Melanie Everett. Mila Norman assisted at the Stone Age Institute. We appreciate the support and assistance of Tim White, Berhane Asfaw, Yonas Beyene, Giday WoldeGabriel, Alemu Admassu and the late Desmond Clark. We thank Dominique Cauche for the artifact drawings. We are grateful for de la Torre’s review of this manuscript and his invaluable comments. The late Clark Howell inspired, supported and encouraged the Gona research. We are grateful for his continuous selfless support, and we dedicate this manuscript to him.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stone Age Institute and CRAFT Research Center, Indiana UniversityGosportUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologySouthern Connecticut State UniversityNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Archaeology, University College LondonLondonUK

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